A diplomat’s life is not just a series of meetings and weighty discussions, as my first visit to Bhubaneswar demonstrated. I went to Bhubaneswar to introduce myself and to begin to learn about Orissa—now included in our Hyderabad consular district. I had a number of meetings with state government officials and NGOs that were very useful and informative. The most energizing elements of the trip, however, were three opportunities for exchanges with young people.
The first was at the Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS) where I had a chance to interact with students participating in the English Access Microscholarship Program the U.S Government supports. I was very impressed with how much English they had learned – one even told a joke in English, something I have a hard time doing myself. The teenagers asked me about a wide variety of subjects, including the differences between the U.S. and India, what they could do after learning English and about U.S. culture and traditions.
The visit to KISS was also a memorable visit because I addressed the assembled student body – some 12,000 children from tribal communities throughout Orissa. I have never spoken to such a large audience before. Even if most of them didn’t understand my words, they responded enthusiastically when I told them that just as President Obama broke barriers by becoming President of the United States, I was sure that the day would come when a tribal would become President of India.
Later in the day we visited a children’s library run by the NGO Bakul Foundation. Bakul is entirely staffed by volunteers, mostly students, who sat down to chat with me about volunteering, careers and how their generation has the confidence to try new things, adopt new lifestyles and embrace change.
My third interaction with young people was at Xaiver Institute of Management, where I shared some thoughts on the transformation in U.S.-India relations. The questions the students asked showed how their education at a Jesuit business school has broadened their minds. Their interests ranged from global human rights principles to civil nuclear cooperation to outsourcing.